Health Care or Healthcare – What’s the Difference?

As a clinician, patient care is the top priority. So how does this sentiment about care for one’s health translate from the spoken to the written word?

I realize that in documenting about someone’s health, I have seen and used both health care and healthcare, often synonymously. But is one more correct than the other? Did I have it wrong all this time? How – and when – should they be used differently?

Turning to Google, it quickly unfolds that the answer is not simple. There is no clear authority, and I am not the first to ponder. In 2014, this question was in Google’s top 20 percent for searches, clearly suggesting this is more than a “tomato, tomahto” thing.

To find an answer, I turned to additional language and technology experts to see if there was consensus. Spoiler alert: there is not.

  • Associated Press (AP): The AP Stylebook, a consensus reference for journalists and news outlets suggests the two-word form health care as a noun and health-care as an adjective.
  • Dictionaries: The two most authoritative dictionaries for the English language – Merriam-Webster and Oxford English – have consensus that health care is two-words when used as a noun.
  • Microsoft: Microsoft Word was not helpful, providing no red or blue underlines, suggesting that both healthcare and health care were acceptable in any context.
  • Google: Google Trends show consistently from the late 1990’s the use of healthcare surpassing health care. Healthcare is used frequently, and increasingly, from academic and government organizations to retailers, such as Target and Walmart.

A final answer?

To summarize the TNTC – too numerous to count – articles and sites that I have now reviewed, a common consensus is:

Healthcare – use as a noun and adjective to denote the industry itself or describing specific facility or system.

Health Care – those delivering care; individuals or groups

What about 3M Health Care? The Health Care Business Group was formed and named in 1960s, when the two-word version was the convention.

As a corporation, we take a patient-centered approach to innovation. And, as we enter the next decade, we embrace this further by aiming to deliver more effectively on value-based care.

In this manner, we are both the industry of healthcare and the ones delivering health care with the products we develop.

What we are seeing is that people are increasingly and repeatedly using the word healthcare and health care – purposefully, with intent to convey different meanings. Whether used as one- or two-words, we should aim for consistent meaningful use. This will allow us to add specificity to our communications, as well as to be more mindful.

Perhaps, as an added benefit, we collectively will also accelerate a new entry into the AP Stylebook and a dictionary or two.

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